Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Thoughts: Texas one step from Series
By Richard Durrett
The Rangers got a come-from-behind victory in Game 4 of the ALCS, winning 10-3. They are now one win away from the World Series as they have a 3-1 lead in the series with C.J. Wilson pitching in Game 5 on Wednesday afternoon. It's hard to believe. Some quick thoughts on Game 4:
* The key at-bat in the game came in the top of the sixth inning. With two outs and one on, the Yankees decided to walk left-handed hitting David Murphy to get to catcher Bengie Molina, a right-handed hitter. But Molina had been on base in his two previous at-bats. Joe Girardi stuck with starter A.J. Burnett (and didn't go with Joba Chamberlain, who was warming in the pen) and Molina turned on an inside fastball -- the first pitch he saw in the at-bat -- and hit it into the seats in right field to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 Rangers lead. Molina ended up 3-for-3 and has five RBIs in the ALCS. Molina has 12 postseason RBIs against the Yankees, tied for the most all-time by any catcher (Roy Campanella is the other).
* Girardi played the percentages again in the seventh, going with lefty Boone Logan to pitch to lefty Josh Hamilton with two outs and no one on. But Hamilton hit a fastball over the wall in right to extend the Texas lead. The Rangers kept the inning going, putting a couple of more runners on base, and then a bloop single by Ian Kinsler added yet another run to make it 7-3.
Josh Hamilton has twice as many home runs (four) against the Yankees in the ALCS as he had hits (two) in the ALDS against the Rays.
* The Yankees wasted chances early to increase a slim lead. They got just one run in the fourth (more on that later) and then put the first two runners on in the fifth and couldn't get anything. Credit Derek Holland for part of that. He got Alex Rodriguez to ground into a double play to end the inning.
* Texas then mashed, as Hamilton hit his second homer of the game (and fourth of the series after struggling against Tampa Bay) and Nelson Cruz hit a ball to the second deck in left. It gave the Rangers double-digit runs for the first time in their postseason history. They have outscored the Yankees, 30-11, through the first four games.
* Texas just loves playing away from Arlington in these playoffs (the opposite of their regular season). They are now 5-0 on the road in the 2010 postseason. If they make it 6-0 on Wednesday, they'll punch their ticket to the Fall Classic.
* Instant replay made its series debut on an apparent Berkman homer in the second. His long shot to right was called fair and Berkman rounded the bases. But after the umpires reviewed it, the homer was taken off the board. They got the call right, which is the most important thing. It was the third umpire review in postseason history.
* There was controversy in the inning as Yankee fans got involved in Robinson Cano's homer. Cano hit a long ball to right and Cruz tried to jump up and catch it. As he did, fans reached out. One grabbed Cruz's glove and shoved it aside, but it appeared that came after the ball bounced on the top of the wall and into the crowd. That should be something the umpires can review. However, it looked like they made the right call on the replay. Should fans be that close to the action where they can try to interfere like that? (Before you ask, the Jeffery Maier catch off Derek Jeter in the 1996 ALCS was a lot different. Maier's glove was over the wall and outfielder Tony Tarasco wasn't over the fence. That was a lot more obvious). BTW, check out what Maier thought of Cano's homer in this ESPNNewYork.com story.
* The Rangers' versatile offense was at it again in the third, taking the lead in the game right after the Yankees scored. Murphy got it started, walking to first to lead off the inning despite falling behind 0-2 in the at-bat. That's the kind of thing the Rangers have done all season. Murphy then went to second on a passed ball. Burnett then hit Molina (not surprising, since Burnett led the league with 19 hit batters in 2010), and Mitch Moreland bunted both of them over. Elvis Andrus hit a sharp ground ball to Mark Teixeira, who made a nice play on it, but it scored a run. Then Michael Young came through -- as he's done all series with runners in scoring position (2-for-6 with two doubles and two RBIs before that at-bat) -- with an infield hit to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead.
* Hunter turned around the next half-inning and got into two-out trouble. Jeter hit a rocket to a few feet shy of the top of the wall in center for a triple. Hamilton couldn't get it as it caromed off the wall and Jeter just kept motoring to third. He scored to tie the game on Curtis Granderson's hot shot to the right side of the infield that Kinsler knocked down but couldn't get to in time to get the out. Hunter also balked in the inning, possibly showing some nerves.
* Hunter couldn't get through the fourth inning. It started poorly as he hit A-Rod leading off the inning on a 2-2 pitch. Cano then singled to get pitching coach Mike Maddux out to the mound to chat with Hunter. After Swisher struck out, Berkman singled to load the bases. Rodriguez was held up at third as Cruz charged the ball hard and threw a bullet to home plate. Few teams try to run on Cruz.
* Andrus showed off his glove in the fourth. With the bases loaded and one out, the shortstop made a nice diving stop on a hard-hit ball by Brett Gardner. Andrus threw to third base, the only place he had a chance to get an out, and the go-ahead run scored. Holland, in to relieve Hunter after he loaded the bases, then struck out catcher Francisco Cervelli. The Yankees scored one run, but it could have been a lot worse for the Rangers. It was a big wasted opportunity for New York.
* Molina did a nice job of blocking balls at the plate. Sometimes I think that goes unnoticed, especially when he has such a big night at the plate, but he was solid in that department Tuesday.
* Andrus' single in the fifth extended his postseason hitting streak to nine games. He also stole his sixth base of the playoffs. Burnett allowed 37 stolen bases in the regular season, most in the majors. So the Rangers knew they could run on him. Andrus did not end up scoring.
* Teixeira grabbed his right hamstring as he was running down to first base on a ground ball in the fifth and was helped off the field. He will get an MRI to determine the severity of the injury. Obviously, that would be a huge loss for the Yankees in this series. Teixeira wasn't hitting well, but his glove is invaluable at first base. Swisher took his place.
* Vladimir Guerrero is hitting the ball again and that's good news for Texas. His double off Chamberlain in the seventh was his third hit of the game. Guerrero's ninth-inning single in Game 3 may have been the catalyst for him. He certainly had his timing back in Game 4.
* Holland was excellent on Tuesday, just like he has been the entire ALCS. He came in with the bases loaded in the fourth and limited the damage to one run there. He then got out of a jam in the fifth and just kept getting outs, giving his team 3 2/3 innings and allowing one hit with two walks and three strikeouts. To me, Holland's confidence got a boost after he gave up a two-run homer to Evan Longoria in Game 4 of the ALDS. I know that sounds strange, but after that homer, Holland settled down and gave the club some shutout innings and in the process learned a few things and got a boost. It's carried over to the ALCS.
* For the second straight game, the Rangers sent Yankee fans to the exits early. This time, the empty seats on TV were more pronounced even in the seventh and eighth innings.